No parliamentary opposition move can constitutionally gag Minister Rohee – AG

ATTORNEY-GENERAL and Minister of Legal Affairs Anil Nandlall yesterday clearly indicated that no action by the parliamentary opposition can legally and constitutionally put paid to Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee speaking in the National Assembly.

altDuring a television interview on the National Communications Network (NCN), with its editor Edward Layne, the AG reviewed the previous attempts by the opposition to do this via a no-confidence motion, and the use of the one-seat majority with the numerical strength which prevailed against reason and principle which was passed. Minister Nandlall then alluded to the fact that the law, the Constitution and the Standing Orders of the National Assembly, together compel Minister Rohee to perform his functions as minister, and his functions in the National Assembly. He added that there is nothing in law, and in the Constitution which would empower the Speaker of the House to prohibit Minister Rohee from speaking.
The AG also pointed to the fact that the Speaker sought and obtained two legal opinions from Mr. Rex McKay, S.C., and from Mr. Stephen Fraser, Attorney-at-Law, and that both of those opinions coincided with the arguments presented by the AG from the time the no-confidence motion was presented to  Parliament three months ago.

He explained that the Speaker gave a written ruling and he captured the legal opinions within. The questions: whether the President of Guyana is obliged to act on a motion adopted by the National Assembly, and whether Minister Rohee could continue to perform his duties as Minister of Home Affairs in the National Assembly were answered in the Speaker’s ruling that follows:
“I can find no provision within  the Standing Orders of the National Assembly, the Constitution and the laws of Guyana which restrains an elected member from fulfilling his functions as a Minister of Home Affairs of Guyana in the National Assembly. As uncomfortable and as unpleasant as it is for me to make a ruling in this instance, I must stand by the side of the rule of law and applying my own deliberate judgment and adopting the opinion of Counsel, I find in the absence of a resolution in this august Assembly which specifically sanctions the minister and directs that he be restrained from speaking in any or more capacities, I am, by law, duty bound to rule that he must be allowed to speak,” the Speaker ruled.
AG Nandlall also pointed to the Speaker’s ruling, citing a case emanating out of Dominica that, “the customs, practices and conventions of the UK House of Commons, as applying to no-confidence motions and resolutions, do not as  a matter of course apply to Guyana.”
Nandlall emphasised that the Speaker ruled that the practices and conventions of the United Kingdom parliament do not apply to Guyana, based on the advice he has received. This was exactly what he (Nandlall) had previously articulated.
“ When the Speaker made that ruling, what the members of the National Assembly did, as Minister Rohee attempted to present a Bill, they started to make a lot of noise in the Assembly, they shouted and banged on the desks, saying ‘Rohee must go’. They were very loud, drowning out Minister Rohee’s voice, in complete disregard for the Speaker’s ruling, and in an attempt to clearly undermine the authority of the Chair in the National Assembly. As a result, the Speaker got up and walked out of the Assembly,” the AG recalled.
Parliament, the AG said, has similar power as the court to find persons in contempt and explained that disrespect in the face of the Parliament constitutes conduct which the Speaker is witnessing himself, which makes it impossible for the Parliament to function, which would bring into disrepute the integrity of the institution of that august body.
“When those acts are committed, the presiding officer, the Speaker of the National Assembly has an inherent power to maintain order and to maintain decorum, rectitude, and maintaining the integrity of the tribunal, the law invests that officer with the power to punish for contempt. There it is, the joint opposition has displayed contempt in the face of the Parliament by defying the Speaker’s ruling, the first thing, and then disregarding the Speaker’s order for them to restore order in the Assembly.”
The Speaker also fell into irreversible error during his decision when he said that it was uncomfortable and unpleasant for him to make the ruling.
The Attorney-General noted that a Speaker is an impartial person, even though he may be the consequence of a partial political process which Mr. Raphael Trotman has come through.
“When he assumes the Chair, aesthetical as it is, he is to unmask that political garb…he has to be an impartial adjudicator of the National Assembly…because he has to listen to arguments on both sides and rule, not because of political partisanship, but because of principles, because of the law, because of the Standing Orders, because of the Constitution, those are the guiding principles, not political affinity. Therefore it is incumbent and imperative that he remain politically aloof,” Nandlall stated.
The AG then pointed to the second statement made by the Speaker at the end of his ruling, where he proceeded inexplicably to advise the joint opposition to bring a substantive motion to gag Minister Rohee. “That I understand is what he is inviting them to do. But when you examine what his ruling says, you will find that he has placed himself in a conundrum from which it is impossible for him to extricate himself, and that conundrum is this, he is saying, ‘I can find no provision within in the Standing Orders of the National Assembly, the Constitution and the laws of Guyana which restrains an elected member from fulfilling his functions, he can find none, he goes on to state again, in the circumstances, and having regard to the foregoing as Speaker of the National Assembly, I have no power to restrict or deny the Hon. member Clement Rohee from speaking or in any way fulfilling his ministerial duties and responsibilities insofar as they relate to this House’.
Nandlall said these are absolute positions, and cannot disintegrate with a substantive motion coming before the Assembly to stop the minister from speaking, because the Speaker is saying unconditionally, unequivocally, unambiguously, that he has no power, he can find no provision in the law, in the standing order in the Constitution, which would allow him, individually or cumulatively, to prevent Minister Rohee from speaking.
“No motion can change the standing order, the Constitution, the laws of the country; if the laws in their current formulation cannot invest you with the power, how can a motion invest you with the power?” the AG questioned.
A substantive motion to stop the minister from speaking will continue to be an impotent exercise, the AG stated, as he has done no wrong in the Assembly.
“It’s a two-pronged argument; one you have no power in the first place, secondly, he has done no wrong within the precincts of the Assembly. All they are saying is that he is incompetent, for all you know with the present construct of the law, it would appear as though a Member of Parliament or a Minister of the Government can be incompetent and not be removed in the National Assembly; the electorate has to remove him, the electorate has to remove the government or remove the member, not the National Assembly, they didn’t put him there.”
There are only two people in the National Assembly that can be removed by a process from within the Assembly, and they are the Speaker himself and the Leader of the Opposition, and that is because both of them are products of a process which began and ended in the National Assembly, the AG explained.
Pointing out that while both the Speaker and the Clerk could refuse to put the motion on the Order Paper, from the floor, using their numerical strength, the opposition can make an application for this motion to be heard, and the Speaker has the power to prevent it from happening.
AG Nandlall also noted that it is not that the Parliament is not functioning, or the opposition is not functioning, “they are functioning, but they are functioning in a manner to destabilise the government, in a manner to cause discord, public disorder in our country, they are unseating democratic traditions, and democratic institutions, and that is bad, that is horrendous.”
He pointed out that ministerial responsibility which is a feature of the British parliamentary system brought up by Alliance For Change’s Leader, Mr. Khemraj Ramjattan, is within a system that is largely governed by conventions which are unwritten, and by which the British regulate their conduct in accordance.
He also noted that ministerial responsibility has no configuration in Guyana’s Constitution, but the entire Cabinet does.
“They are violating and disregarding all the laws, all the recognised procedures, all the democratic traditions and institutions, the Constitution. They disregard their own Speaker, their own lawyers and legal advice… these behavioural traits and erratic outbursts cannot be explained as logical. One has to conclude that something is wrong or they simply want elections, and they don’t want to come out in front and say it, so they prefer to break up the whole thing and force us into a position to call elections,” the AG concluded.

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